Mandy Aftel and her stable of scented unicorns
And by unicorns I mean of course those magical creations that Aftel mixes from botanical ingredients. To say she’s the doyenne of an enchanted forest, is an understatement, she lovingly reigns over a great range of living art. Based in California, Aftel, who’s also a writer – reading her “Essence and Alchemy” right now – makes the sort of perfumes that seem to have sprung form various leftover portals to other words. It’s perhaps the exclusive use of botanicals (oils/essences extracted from actual plants and resins, as opposed to lab-made molecules) that makes them so otherworldly. Whenever I open the box with samples from Aftelier, a hit of spicy florals hits me in the face. Not to mention that Mandy is an extremely generous interviewee and person overall as she loves to share her love of essence and her stash.
Sepia, one of her latest creations, grabbed my attention – inspired by the haunting ghost towns of California, that the Gold Rush built and then abandoned, the scent mixes an eerie jasmine with earth notes. It’s sweet and innocent one minute, and dirty and slightly sinister the next. Sepia is the right name – ghost in the bottle, like a live person and its spectral doppelgänger. It’s the best jasmine I’ve smelled.
Parfum de Maroc – is “inspired by an ancient Moroccan spice recipe Ras el Hanout or “top of the shop” – a mixture of the best spices a seller has to offer” according to Mandy’s description. One can decipher an amalgam of spices including nutmeg, cardamom rounded up by Turkish rose, which has a high vibration sweetness that mixes well with the North African spice shop. I feel a lot of cinnamon coming through as well and the composition becomes spicier with time.
Oud Luban – another great dance couple: oud and frankincense. When I interviewed Mandy a while ago for an article about oud, she told me about how she came to smell it and how she needed letters of introduction to the oud producers in Asia, it’s that selective. The one she uses in Oud Luban is pinging the oud spectrum at the barnyard earthy side as opposed to the medicinal, chlorinated pool side, and I’ve got to say after smelling loads of the latter, I prefer Mandy’s. The mainstream perfumes oud smells mostly the same to me and one can only suspect it’s not natural. Barnyard type oud is the perfect match for the spiritual frankincense, like forming a lien between the flesh and the soul. You’re probably bored by all these similes… but Luban offers an almost ecstatic experience, a moment of epiphany when one remembers our link with the earth and with a greater power out there.
Lumiere – which has been recently reworked without the blue lotus - is a wonderful green scent that irradiates light. It feels like a light anise penetrating the ground from underneath and throwing a a gust of luminous air in your face. It’s a bit like inhaling a patch of earth after a chilly rain. (OMG, quick break I’m still smelling my Sepia wrist, somebody slap me).
I have to say that botanicals offer a special experience for the perfume lover despite their limited lasting power on the skin (come on, it’s only natural). I can’t wait to experience some more.